Researchers find thick patches of crude still on Gulf floor

Brett Michael Dykes
National Affairs Reporter
The Lookout

Back in September, a University of Georgia research team led by Samantha Joye announced that it had discovered patches of oil up to two inches thick on the Gulf floor. What's more, Joye's group documented that the oil accruing at the bottom of the Gulf stretched up to 70 miles away from the site of last April's Deepwater Horizon explosion. Government officials, along with BP executives, insisted that the oil would eventually disappear, thanks to the heroic efforts of microscopic oil-gobbling microbes.

The latest study from Joye's team in Georgia makes it clear that this sunny scenario has not come to pass. At a science conference in Washington over the weekend, Joyce said that she and her fellow researches recently made dives to the same underwater test sites they visited last summer--and discovered that the oil remains firmly in place on the floor of the Gulf.

"There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading," Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. "Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don't know."

Joye also reported that she and her team had also spotted a slew of dead sea life in the thick crude--organisms such as crabs and starfish. "This is Macondo oil on the bottom ... there's a lot of it out there," Joye said as she showed slides to the conference's attendees. "This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads."

As for BP compensation fund head Ken Feinberg's recent assertion that the Gulf will be fully recovered by 2012, Joye didn't mince words: "I've been to the bottom. I've seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It's not going to be fine by 2012. You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion."

In what could be related news, scientists are noticing a striking spike in deaths among baby dolphins in the Gulf, 10 times the normal rate of infant dolphin mortality.

(Photo: University of Georgia, Samantha Joye/AP)